Today I am excited to announce the launch of Charterpath, with a mission to encourage more accountants to volunteer their time and expertise in the non-profit sector. But the question is — can accountants really save the day?
Bean counters, journal junkies, number crunchers, excel monkeys, accountants throughout history have got a bad rap as being boring, nerdy and pernickety — stereotyped as the fun sponge on the team!
In my experience this couldn’t be further from the truth. All the accountants I’ve ever worked with were bright, engaging and sociable. So much so that my friends renamed PwC ‘Partying With Colleagues’ due to the succession of work drinks, dinners and general celebrations that went on (light relief from the long hours diligently working on audits). Times might have changed on the social front following the Bribery Act, however the role itself is much broader than the book-keeping it is renowned for.
As part of training to be an accountant, exams cover everything from tax and financial planning to cash flow modelling and business law. Within an organisation the Finance team tend to be responsible for everything from funding and investment to pricing, cost management, business projections and scenario planning — all critical for successful strategy development and execution. The financial results are of course fundamental — after all this is often the only information that outsiders see on the business performance. They must be granular, robust from a regulatory perspective and delivered to tight deadlines. No wonder the Finance Director is often seen as the number 2 to the CEO — with a need to be energetic, diligent, committed and an absolute team player.
Everyone needs an accountant from a global conglomerate with a central finance function of 100 or more, to the sole trader who needs to prepare his annual accounts and tax return.
However these skills come at a price. And if you are in the non-profit sector there can be little budget to hire a dedicated accountant. Members of staff are often already double or triple-hatting with broad responsibilities from finance to operations and marketing to finance. Day in day out making tough decisions and judgements around certainty of income streams and where best to spend their precious funds.
And never has this need been more acute than in the current crisis. Charities are expected to lose millions of pounds in fundraising and many are already struggling financially given their limited reserves. The Institute of Fundraising reported in April 2020 that direct debit donations are already down 40% and UK charities stand to lose a third of their overall funds. Furthermore, many regular volunteers are retired and therefore at a higher risk from COVID and more likely to stay at home. Not to mention the impact of trying to run services compliant with social distancing measures.
The irony is that this enormous challenge comes at a time when charities will also be experiencing a huge impact in demand. Whilst 52% of charities have reduced their levels of service, with a further 12% intending to do so, 43% of charities surveyed reported an increase in demand for their services.
This recent quote from a piece by Rachel Kirby-Rider the CEO at the children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent brings to life the challenges they face right now:
“We have seen a 60% drop in income, and have a projected £8 million annual loss. We have furloughed 32% of our staff and reduced the hours of 36% of our critical workers. It isn’t an option to furlough our full workforce. We cannot furlough our social care workers or Homes from Home staff — if we did so children and young people with cancer would be without support, and their parents unable to stay near the hospital their child is receiving treatment at when it’s a considerable distance away.”
It doesn’t take an accountant to do the maths on this one...but they can certainly help!
But aren’t there many accountants out there already volunteering? Sure. There are a number of websites out there seeking volunteer roles but we think the take-up could be much better. In particular inspiring and connecting with accountants of all ages and from more diverse backgrounds and skill-sets. From the accountants I speak with, they are not always aware of the value that they could add, even in the early stages of their career, and in particular the benefit that they can gain in return.
And this is why I have decided to co-found Charterpath with my friend and former colleague Alex Marsh. At Charterpath, we think there is a real opportunity to encourage more accountants to volunteer their time and skills to the non-profit sector. Whether as trustees, members of risk & audit committees, school governors or part-time consultants. Accountants can bring deep expertise in a number of areas critical to an organisation’s success.
The experiences Alex and I had in non-profits helped our career paths no end, preparing us for board meetings, negotiations, intense scrutiny — requiring us to have the confidence to sit alongside fellow committee members with many more years experience than us — but crucially may not include the financial and accounting skills we have honed through our own careers. We bought something new whether it was enhancing risk registers, building financials models or assessing strategy. It was a win-win.
At Charterpath we think half the challenge is demystifying the incredible role that accountants can play in the non-profit sector, giving accountants the tools and techniques to help them find the right role and really add value. This is what we are aiming to solve in the first instance. We hope that once accountants see the satisfaction and personal benefit they gain in return for volunteering for a non-profit, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If the idea of volunteering your skills with a non-profit has caught your imagination - follow these 3 simple steps:
Follow Charterpath on LinkedIn for all the latest news, inspiration, and roles
Have a look around our website at www.charterpath.org.uk for case studies, helpful resources, and live volunteer opportunities
Sign the Charterpath pledge to show your support for our mission and volunteer your skills for at least 2 days each year
Alice Clementi and Alex Marsh co-founded Charterpath as a community interest company in 2020, with a mission to increase the proportion of accountants volunteering from 10% to 50% - inspiring more accountants to volunteer their time and expertise, connecting them with non-profit opportunities, and engaging with a wide range of organisations so volunteering is a core part of an accountant’s career. For more information, visit www.charterpath.org.uk.